Roland – Garros 2011




Roland When Li Na stopped playing tennis in 2002 to study journalism she perhaps never envisaged that she would one day be making headlines all over the world. This afternoon the 29-year-old did just that, becoming the first Chinese player in history to win a Grand Slam singles title when she dispatched defending champion Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6(0) in the French Open final.

The 29-year-old from Wuhan hung up her racquet temporarily because she was languishing around the no.120 mark in the world rankings and wanted a back-up plan in case her tennis didn’t pan out. She enrolled on a journalism course and spent two years away from the tour. Nine years on she is the 2011 French Open champion and describes the victory as a „dream come true”.

LiNA „Someone was saying I’m getting old,” Li said after the match – the first clay court title of her career. „So you know the old woman like the dream to come true. Not easy. At 6-0 in the tie-break I was thinking don’t do a stupid thing. Before I have many match points on clay but I never win the match. So I was like, okay, you need one point. Of course, it’s exciting. Not so many players can win a Grand Slam.”

Li, who also made the Australian Open final earlier this year, has been largely responsible for putting Chinese tennis on the map, but she is not convinced everyone will remember her when she gets home.

„The next two weeks is Wimbledon, so I don’t have time to go back to China right now,” she said. „I go back after Wimbledon, maybe people forget me already. These are tough times you know.”

Meanwhile, members of Li’s immediate family – including her mother – are unlikely to have witnessed her historic victory. „I didn’t contact her…My mum and sister always say oh she’s playing now and then they turn off the TV because it made them nervous. I don’t think she watched but I will contact her later.”

Defending champion Francesca Schiavone praised Li’s performance. „She played, really deep so I couldn’t play my spin and really high so she could come in,” said Schiavone. „She played really high level through one set and 2-1, 3-1, she was playing really good. I tried to push more, to risk more and she went down with the level. But it’s normal. Tennis is always like this. I think at the end we were really close and (the set) could be for me or for her. But at the end, she won. She deserve this final. She fight a lot and she played good also on the clay.”

Li now plans to take a couple of days off before she prepares for Wimbledon. As the main story of the day, she won’t be short of reading material when she wakes tomorrow.

Helen Gilbert